Monday, May 24, 2010

Central California - Morro Bay

For the next portion of our trip we headed from Sequoia to Morro Bay. It was the first time we encountered rain, but that was fine for a travel day. We stopped in a great little town called Paso Robles. The town is within minutes of 50+ wineries and has some great restaurants. We had a nice lunch, did a wine tasting, and a bit of shopping before finishing our travels.

Morro Bay is all about scenery, both landscapes and wildlife. We stayed at one of the nicest inns we have ever encountered, The Anderson Inn. The owners were as nice as they possibly could be. The rooms were lovely and this was the view from our balcony.

The big lump is Morro Rock, a leftover from a volcanic uprising. It clearly stands out from anywhere in the surrounding area and makes for a great landmark.

Morro Bay reminded us a lot of the little town of Beaufort where we used to have a house. You have the ocean, then a big barrier island, then a long, narrow bay which offers great protection for the boats. Most of the restaurants and lots of the nicer inns are right along the water.

Another view from our balcony. Fifteen minutes before this, the fog was so thick we didn't think we would see the sunset at all. It quickly cleared and left us with this.

There was beauty everywhere, but someone forgot to tell the power company. Back in the 1950s, before there was much in the way of tourism, they built a coal power plant in town. It was later converted to gas, but is so inefficient and small, that is rarely runs and probably only has a few years of life remaining.

Julie and I went kayaking with a company called Central Coast Outdoors. It was a foggy, drizzly morning, which was a bummer for taking pictures. The nice part is that we were the only two people on the tour and the leader was the owner of the company. He was awesome, explaining everything about the town, the geography, the birds, the mammals, and even the oyster farming. They also lead hiking and biking trips and I would strongly recommend them.

I know the picture is terrible, but the fog was very thick. We were in our room when we heard someone calling cadence for a boat. I looked out and here comes a long boat that looked like a war canoe. It was being aggressively paddled by 20-30 older women. We never got the story about who they were, but they seemed to be working hard and having fun.

Wildlife was everywhere. Here we see one of the healthier squirrels. Down by Morro Rock, there were dozens of fat, begging squirrels. As much as they ask people not to feed them, some do. Apparently the owner of a local doughnut shop feeds his extras to the rodents every day.

On our kayak adventure, we ran across a protected nesting area for the endangered Western Snowy Plover. We were lucky to get close views of a few of them.

Grebes, a neat little diving duck, were all over the place. I enjoyed watching a group the wanted to feed in one spot, but the tide kept taking them elsewhere. Every minute or two, they would half-fly, half-run back to where they wanted to dine.

The Great Egrets were pretty common. I sat watching this one fish until he caught something interesting. He got a bunch of grass with his catch, but you can see the fish in his mouth.

I blew it up more for a better view. You can double-click on the picture to see a bigger copy.

There are a couple of heron rookeries in town. The herons and the egrets gather in a set of trees to nest.

Then trouble comes to town. The cormorants (seen below) start joining the party, but they poop so much nutrient-rich dung, they over fertilize the trees and kill them. The herons and egrets leave, because they like the cover of the foliage, but it turns out the cormorants like the bare branches better. Eventually the dead trees will fall, and then no one is happy.

I lucked into this one. I was adjusting my camera to photograph this egret when I noticed two chicks in the nest. In this picture, one is spreading his little wings and you can just see the head of the second one.

The big hit for both Julie and I was the sea otters. Seals and sea lions are ok, but you just can't beat a sea otter for cute. This one is just floating around in the sunshine, enjoying his nap.

This one was diving for clams. He would bring them to the surface, set them on his chest, and beat the crap out of them. The lazy gull was hanging around for any leftovers.

These guys have lazy down to an art. When you take a nap in the water, you don't want the tides and winds carrying you off somewhere. The solution? Grab some sea grass and wrap it around your belly, anchoring you to the bottom. Look close and you can see each of their sea grass belts.

They are quite social. Why nap alone when you can raft up and hang together? It is hard to separate heads from tails from sea grass, but there are 8 or 9 otters in this group.

Morro Bay was my favorite part of the trip. An excellent place to stay. Gorgeous ocean beaches. A protected bay. All sorts of sea mammals swimming by our balcony. And all within about 30 minutes of more wineries than most of us will ever visit. Definitely worth a return visit.
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